The exhibition “Jakub Špaňhel — Jonáš Czesaný” presents two distinctive personalities of current Czech painting. Certainly, with the historical licence of the present-day, both artists render their images expressively: Špaňhel presents a masterful, sometimes even attractive, sensuality, rooted in strong painterly gestures and colouring that is spectacular, even if sometimes reduced to grey and black. Jonáš Czesaný creates paintings that are dry, speculative, ironic; often scale is the only variant that strikes with force.
Czesaný’s painting has developed slowly. His modest topics, sometimes reminiscent of images in the style of Social Realism (doubtless with an undertone of intellectual naiveté), were preceded by depictions of skeletons, strange destroyed fish, or appalling toddlers—all of which still appear in this exhibition. These apocalyptic themes have been transmuted into the most civil form possible, to a certain extent remaining antecedents of warning. Limning a balance between banality and the ever-present apocalypse, Czesaný`s paintings have come to inhabit the space between the ridiculous and the horrific, naive and intellectual, nostalgic and satiric. None of these qualities appearing paramount, it is necessary for a spectator to look long, to discern the greater meanings. These paintings are suggestive of amateur snapshots. It is as if a mistake were encoded within their creation. Here it is no small thing to discover whether the question posed is an intellectual gesture, or a primitive ambivalence. Nothing is sure. And it is this very quality, of the indefinite, or vague, that is quite in the character of contemporary art.
Jakub Špaňhel’s paintings are set among the syntheses of several subjects. Not afraid to address banal or even trivial themes, his paintings of flowers or structures, achieved with a paint-roller with which he repeats simple motifs in the style of Warhol, are by now well-known. His dissertation, which presented compacted images, especially of baroque churches, was a turning-point for his work. Striking in his reduction of image and shape, he has been most successful in the magic rendering of these cathedral interiors. His paintings in this exhibition present mostly well-known historical, and touristed, places of interest—for example, the Charles Bridge. Yet, in these works, we find little true banality. Here the artist reduces his motifs in a manner even stronger than in his process with church interiors. Here he is more consistent with regard to tonal values, sometimes taking the liberty of using gold, which is imbued with a more symbolic, as opposed to pictorial, nature. Špaňhel’s strength is to be able to paint even the most banal subjects despite themselves, devoid of banality. Unlike Jonáš Czesaný, Jakub Špaňhel’s conception is emotional, sensual. His choice of themes and process are not subject to the intellect. Here is a gesture of painting presented in the simplest, and also most convincing, form possible.
These very disparate approaches are what makes this exhibition so remarkable and compelling. Being contemporaries with similar sources, Czesaný and Špaňhel are by now so definitively formed that we must perceive their present rendezvous as the intersection of two very different concerns. After some consideration, points of contact are being discovered, to become clearer, more distinct, only with time. At present, within their generation, both of these young painters belong to the highest echelon of contemporary Czech painting.
25. 4. 2005
Catalogue in PDF